Politics

Fauci hits out at Trump for leaving Covid response to states

White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci on Sunday said letting governors politicise use of testing, masks and vaccination to combat Covid-19 in the absence of a uniform national policy for was ‘the biggest mistake’ made under former president Donald Trump.

“I rank that right up there,” he said during an interview with CBS’ Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation.

Although Mr Trump and his top advisers promoted social distancing and other mitigation measures against Covid-19 by way of the “30 days to slow the spread” campaign the White House unveiled on 16 March 2020, he quickly pivoted to using the stay-at-home orders imposed in nearly every state as a cudgel against Democratic governors in states he would need to win re-election, such as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer.

His eagerness to reopen the US economy — which he saw as necessary to bolster his campaign — led his administration to issue guidelines for states to begin lifting stay-at-home orders in early May last year. But those guidelines noted that governors could “tailor the application” of Centers for Disease Control-developed criteria “to local circumstances”, giving his Republican allies in governors mansions a reason to ignore or override public health measures, even when implemented by local officials in largely Democratic cities.

Dr Fauci said the lack of a coherent national policy was one of the things he would have changed about the nation’s response to Covid-19 if he had owned “a magic wand” that could make people follow his preferred approach.

“If ever there was a situation where you needed a synergistic, uniform, well-thought-out approach, it’s when you’re dealing with a common enemy … a virus that is a global pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 100 years,” he said. “To be able to say, ‘I don’t really want to do this because I want my own opinion of what it’s going to be with this state versus this state versus this state,’ to me, that’s one of the antitheses of public health”.

“How can you possibly have a situation where one state says, ‘I’m sorry, you shouldn’t be wearing a mask’ — in fact, you have executive orders saying you shouldn’t be wearing a mask — you have another state that does not want to get vaccinated because they think it’s a political statement to get vaccinated or not,” he continued. 

“The divisiveness in this country to me is the biggest mistake that supersedes everything that we’re talking about, supersedes the mask situation, supersedes everything … you have divisiveness that is pulling away from doing the right thing to get the outbreak under control … when we look back historically and look back at this and said we had this devastating plague out there that were killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, and we’re having public health principles being decided on the basis of political ideology”.

Dr Fauci, who first rose to prominence as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the early days of the global Aids epidemic, said he “absolutely” wants a 9/11 Commission-style investigation established to look into both the origins of the pandemic and how the US bungled the initial response to it, but predicted that any such probe would have to wait until the pandemic is under “much better control”.

But the veteran infectious disease researcher derided the push by Republican senators to pin blame for the pandemic on “gain of function” research as a “total political football”.

“There’s a lot of politicisation of that. And I think there’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation and outright lies about that. And that’s really unfortunate,” he said.  

“The politicisation of it is really unfortunate because as I’ve said, I’ve stayed away from politics my entire life. I am somebody who only cares about science and health, and it is, you’re right, it’s painful and disturbing to see when you’re trying to focus all of your attention on doing what you can do the way we did to create the vaccines, to develop the drugs, to save millions of lives. And then you have this completely outlandish politicisation of it. Politicisation of everything. Politicisation of the public health, politicisation of the origins, politicisation of all of it.”

Asked about calls by GOP Senator Ted Cruz to have him prosecuted, Dr Fauci responded: “I have to laugh at that. I should be prosecuted? What happened on Jan. 6, senator?”

He added that one would “have to be asleep” to not realise that Republican attempts to turn him into a villain were meant to deflect blame from Mr Trump’s mistakes.

Despite the rash of attacks from the GOP, Dr Fauci — who has said he will not retire until Covid-19 is “in the rear-view mirror” — maintained that he does not spend much time worrying about such criticisms.

“I’m just going to do my job and I’m going to be saving lives and they’re going to be lying,” he said.


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